SJC justices return to Peabody High roots

Two judges who serve on the Supreme Judicial Court returned to Peabody High Monday morning to talk about their experiences growing up in the city and on the state's highest court before about 300 students in the high school's auditorium. From left, state Rep. Tom Walsh, D-Peabody, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court Justice David Lowy, Governor's Councilor Eileen Duff, Peabody School Committee members Beverley Griffin Dunne and Andrew Arnotis, and Peabody High Principal Eric Buckley.

PEABODY — Two of the seven justices on the state's highest court are Tanners.

This fact was not lost on Governor's Councilor Eileen Duff of Gloucester, herself a 1977 Peabody High graduate and former class president, who on Monday hosted a chat with Supreme Judicial Court justices Kimberly Budd and David Lowy for an audience of 300 students in the school auditorium.

Growing up, both Budd and Lowy attended Peabody schools, including Peabody High. (Its students are known as Tanners for the leather industry that used to dominate the city.) Lowy graduated in 1978; Budd didn't graduate from Peabody High, because her family moved just before she started her senior year. 

"I left in 1983 and moved to Atlanta and then came back up here for law school," Budd said. "I haven't been in the school since 1983, and it's bringing back a lot of memories. It's really good to be here."

Lowy, too, said it was "wonderful" to be back. "I think during high school we spend our time trying to get out of high school, and then once we are out, we spend all our time trying to get back in. It was nice that I was able to sneak back in here today with the invitation of Councilor Duff." 

Both justices, who were nominated by Gov. Charlie Baker and confirmed by the Governor's Council, have been serving on the state's highest court since 2016. They spoke for more than an hour about their time at Peabody High, their views on the law, and some of the cases they have handled.

Lowy was a regular playing basketball on the courts at Emerson Park and at Symphony Park in West Peabody. He graduated from UMass in 1983 and got his law degree at Boston University.

Budd was No. 2 in her class at Peabody High, which drew a "woo hoo" from the audience. She went on to Georgetown University for a bachelor's degree in English and to Harvard for her law degree.

'Quality education'

Budd said Peabody High prepared her well for her senior year in high school and her first year in college.

"I had no idea the quality of the education that I had gotten, because when I got to the school in Atlanta, everything was really easy," she said. "... I just really appreciated the base that I have received at Peabody High School. So, just keep that in mind. You guys are getting a really great education."

Duff noted that Budd was just the third African American to serve on the state Supreme Judicial Court, and is presently the only African American justice sitting on the high court. 

She was one of just a handful of black students at Peabody High.

"It was my experience, so I'm not going to say it was good or bad. It made me who I am today," said Budd.

Lowy, 59, also said he had "a terrific experience right from grammar school," even though "I was not No. 2 in my class." 

Basketball and his close friends dominated his time at Peabody High, he said, and Lowy, who lives in Marblehead, said he still maintains those close friendships today.

"The teachers really had a commitment to the students here," he said. "When I was a student, I felt like the teachers were really pouring their soul into each of us."

He impressed on students that the key to success would be the ability to write.

"You need to be able to write well," Lowy said. "And if you do, you are so many steps ahead of everybody else."

Choosing a career

Anya Tseitlin, a 16-year-old junior, asked the justices at what point they knew they wanted to be a lawyer, "because we are always told that we don't need to have everything figured out."

Budd said her father was a lawyer, and she used to help him in his office, so she sensed she would go to  law school, someday. As an undergraduate, knowing she could major in whatever she wanted, she majored in English.

Lowy, on the other hand, said he "had no idea when I was in high school that I wanted to be a lawyer. I did know what I didn't want to be. My dad was a dentist and I didn't want to spend my life putting my hands in other people's mouths."

College history classes impressed upon him the impact lawyers could have on the world, and that's when he made the decision to study law.

"As you kind of worked your way up through the different levels of education ... what motivated you to keep going?" asked senior Vinnie Ducharme, 17. 

"I needed to refuel. We all need to refuel," said Lowy, who said one of the things that helped him with his education was summer vacation, when he worked as a vendor at Fenway Park.

"When we were here at Peabody High School," Budd said, "we had no idea that we would be sitting up here now. No clue." Budd advised students to "be prepared for whatever it is you are going to do."

Both justices were asked what book they would recommend to students.

Budd chose "Just Mercy," by Bryan Stevenson, a best-seller about the lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice devoted to defending those who are most desperate and in need. 

Lowy recommended "Outliers: The Story of Success," by Malcolm Gladwell, which examines factors that make high-achievers successful.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.

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